Ballet Careers

10 Artistic Directors Share What They're Looking For in a Dancer

Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

"I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," Lorentzen says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way."


Gen Horiuchi, Saint Louis Ballet

"The minute you walk into the studio you are being evaluated," says Horiuchi. "I look for individuals who are technically and artistically well-rounded. I also look at how they engage with my dancers. Presence and personality are important."

Kevin O'Hare, The Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet doesn't hold auditions, but if it's your dream company, your best bet is to find a way into its affiliated training program. "My first stop is The Royal Ballet School," says O'Hare, who assesses RBS students throughout their training. "I love somebody who really moves. A natural dance quality and musicality are so important. If you've got that, you can always work on the technique."

Adam Sklute, Ballet West

"I like an artist who creates magic onstage. Also someone who listens, because it's that attention to stylistic detail that matters so much."

Robert Hill, Orlando Ballet

Hill's primary focuses are solid technique and artistic versatility. "They have to be classically strong, but they have to be able to boogie," he says.

Devon Carney, Kansas City Ballet

"Musicality is paramount to me, as is attentiveness to the material and being able to exactly reproduce it quickly," says Carney. He also places great importance on a dancer's demeanor, professional appearance, resumé and photo.

Steven Wistrich, City Ballet of San Diego

"I look for dancers who are intelligent—right away they're picking up the steps," says Wistrich. "I look for personality—if they are dancing from the inside out rather than the outside in. I really like dancers who have a voice, who have something to express—with a light in their eyes. They shine."

Kevin Irving, Oregon Ballet Theatre

"I want dancers who can dance—that's something that can't be taught," says Irving. "I'm as much a sucker for a beautifully shaped foot or a great line, but I'm always drawn to people, even when they're young, who can embody that poetry."

Terrence Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

"The look of the dancer is very important," says Orr, "and that can be defined in all kinds of ways. I want dancers who are not only great technicians but also gifted actors. An equally important part of the audition process is having conversations with the dancer to get to know their heart and how they will fit in."

Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

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Ballet Training
Getty Images

I'm a college freshman, and my dance program isn't challenging enough. We only have ballet three times a week and a few hours of modern, and my classmates aren't as dedicated as I am. There's a small dance company nearby, where I was hoping to take extra classes, but I don't have a car. I want to transfer, but I feel like I won't be in good enough shape for auditions. —Tara

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